The Last Dance
Blaise Eli Foulton, Illinois, USA
Ihave kept this to myself too long. I will soon reach the end of my journey, and I think this should be told. Too many of the younger generation have no grasp with the reality of WWII and small town life, and those who lived it.
Old Route 40 may well be the loneliest road in all of North America. Difficult to get onto and off of, and in ill repair, it truly is a "lost highway." But it wasn't always this way. This desolate stretch of two lane macadam was once a major part of many peoples' lives, for it went through Trinity, the town without a cause. Trinity is a strange little town. It was the place farm families came to recreate, and had a population of maybe 2900 in the boomer days at the dawn of this century. Trinity was endowed with a beautiful large hotel called the Hotel Del Coronado that had 75 rooms, a theater called the Orphium and one called the Bijou (both seating over five hundred), and the Pantheon Ballroom. What I have to say concerns the ballroom. 1945 was a year of jubilation. Uncle Sam's boys were coming home from Europe at long last, and all of Illinois wanted to see their boys home. The Pantheon had any number of gala events celebrating the return of our boys. (I was one of them...PFC Blaise Foulton). All the local gals turned out to dance to all the latest hits (All aboard, a sentimental journey...) with a real soldier, "fresh from the fronts" and the whole town went like a barnfire, louder than a factory whistle all around the clock for the better part of two years. In 1948 word got out that route 40 would relocate, and the well dried up. Trinity went from a bustling free-for-all to a virtual ghost town. Records show a drop in population from 2875 to 503 in two years. The Mighty Pantheon, like many of the nation's ballrooms, went the way of all flesh, closing its doors for good in 1950. But the story really only begins here. The Pantheon is on the south side of Magnolia Bvd, facing the lawn to the east of the building. There are three large windows on the street side, and the doors face east. On Labor Day, 1951 authorities were called to investigate lights and music coming from the then-silent ballroom. When they pulled up, all was still. Decoration Day, 1952 authorities were called to the ballroom again to investigate. My sister in law was the person who called. She lives Northwest of the place, and could see it from the screen porch. She told my wife later it "looked like old times." I was there on the fourth of July weekend, playing Euchre with Myrna and Beulah and my brother, and I personally saw the Pantheon light up like a Christmas tree, and loud as life. We sat in the porch, half in the dark, and watched people come in and go out for the greater part of two hours. The old roof garden was packed, the parking lot overflowing. Beulah tugged my arm and said "Look, Eli!"(Eli is my middle name) I followed her pointing hand to a scuffed black DeSoto with a crumpled passenger fender in the parking lot. "That looks like your old whoopie" I watched in utter disbelief as a lanky soldier and his petite gal got in and started to leave. The clincher was when the car turned out of the lot, showing us the driver side. There was a deep U-shaped dent in the door and a crack on the rear door, just like mine. The proverbial chill ran up my spine, and I had enough. I went into the house and didn't go out on the porch the rest of my stay there. Myrna passed on in 1974, and I haven't been back since, but my cousin still lives there. He told me last year the new sheriff was looking for the person or persons who were partying in the old Pantheon on Decoration Day weekend. I doubt very much he will find them. Do you? So if sometime you find yourself north of Dominion on old 40, and you should pass by Trinity, stop in and see the old Pantheon. It's a little bit worn by the sands of time, but evidently good enough for those who prefer to have the last dance there.